Citation for this article is: Record Group FS0000, Series 1 Mary Jo Bratton Papers, Sub-series 1 Oral History Tapes, Hanna Cuthrell Brown Oral History, July 30, 1981.
Hanna Cuthrell Brown was a native of Aurora, NC. She taught school while attending ECTTS and married shortly after graduation in 1917. Her husband was a Methodist minister and the couple lived in many towns in Eastern North Carolina throughout his career.
Items not included here are information regarding family history, the Lost Colony play, and hurricanes. The entire oral history is available to researchers in the Special Collections Research Room.
Brown: I was born at Aurora in Beaufort County. I lived there until I got married June 27, 1917.
Bratton: I thought when I read a little piece in the Training School Quarterly about you in your senior picture, and it said something about your saying that you thought it was a good idea to get married and that you already were started on that. My impression was that you were about to get married as soon as you graduated.
Brown: The day I was going to graduate, I said -- well, all of your best friends would get together and all sit at the table together, about eight of us -- "Well, three weeks, right from this minute, I'll be getting married." Oh, they kicked up such a racket I thought they were going to break up the dining room in there. They said, "My land, if I'd known I was going to get married in three weeks, I would never have come back and done all this hard work." I said, "Yes, but I wanted that diploma.
I was supposed to graduate in 1916, but I dropped out and taught school a year. You might be interested in knowing what I made. I made $45 a month.
Bratton: Had you gone to school in Aurora?
Brown: I finished high school there.
Bratton: Then you came up to the training school.
Brown: We had one train a day that came from Aurora and I came on that train to Washington and crossed the city of Washington to the Norfolk Southern. I came to Washington on the Atlantic Coastline and went to the Norfolk Southern and went to Greenville.
Bratton: You had to cross the river.
Brown: At that time, in Greenville, we had to walk from where the station stopped to East Carolina.
Bratton: Tenth and Dickinson.
Brown: Yes, we had to walk. They had some kind of old wagon or something that brought our trunks. Everybody brought a trunk because you couldn't go home, you know. Now they throw everything in a car and go home every Friday night. We didn't get to go home but twice a year, Christmas and Easter.
Bratton: Tell me about Dr. Wright.
Brown: He was tall, noble looking. He was from down in Sampson County. Down there where he came from they had a school way back from everywhere that he had something to do with. He and his brother. His brother was named Mr. Will Wright. I can't think what they called the school. It was something like a private school.
Bratton: Was that Coharie?
Brown: That's not the name of the school, but that is a river down there.
Bratton: I think they called their home "Coharie." Dr. Wright was sort of at home then, like he had come back home to the east and knew the ways of the east.
Brown: He was a wonderful man. I tell you one thing, he wouldn't stand for any foolishness.
Bratton: He was firm and . . .
Brown: He was very strict, but he did it with love. He didn't fuss and rear out like some people would, but he would just tell you and when he said it he meant it. That was Dr. Wright. He was president for a long time over there.
Bratton: Until 1934, he died in 1934.
When you went to East Carolina, were there any men there? There were nineteen as I recall in 1909.
Brown: There was one man I think there and the girls kept his hat full of notes all the time. They didn't know who he was. That was all, there weren't anymore.
Bratton: That had phased out by then and so it was all girls.
Brown: They had one woman who was over all of us and her name was Kate Beckwith.
Bratton: Tell me about Mrs. Beckwith.
Brown: Oh, honey, she was a tall, noble-looking woman. She was a widow. She had a daughter whose name was Gladys. Well, she used to laugh, well she wouldn't laugh either. You know when I was there they wouldn't let us come on the hall without stockings on. You couldn't even go to the bathroom without them on.
Bratton: Not even if you had a bathrobe on?
Brown: No, you had to have on everything. But anyway, she used to tell the girls that her husband had never seen her naked leg.
Bratton: Would you say she was just the ideal picture of a southern lady?
Brown: Yes, I would.
Adrian Brown, my husband, was going to what was at that time called Trinity College [Duke University] and so sometimes he would get a chance to come home to Greenville unexpectedly. His mother and daddy lived here. He would call up Mrs. Beckwith and ask her if he could come over there to see me. We had to get written permission from our parents to see anybody. Of course I was real mean, so I would get one of the girls to write mine.
She would tell Adrian, "Now Mr. Brown, I'm going to let you see Miss Cuthrell, but it's not your date, it's mine." He said he didn't care what she called it, her date or his, as long as he got to see me. She always let me see him. She was always real good to me.
Bratton: You had to sit in the parlor?
Brown: I mean you did. But we had one little parlor, private. It was who and who was going to get that. Sometimes I would get it, but not often.
Bratton: Was that in Wilson Dorm, the girl's dorm?
Brown: Yes. The one nearest to the town then. I roomed upstairs right over the porch that came in the main dormitory. When it snowed, we would raise the window and we could get all the snow we wanted and make snow cream. She wouldn't let us if she knew it, but we did it anyway. She didn't know it.
Bratton: Would she let you keep any food in your room?
Brown: Well, yes. The girls used to get boxes from home. They couldn't get home and get it, but the parents would send them boxes. They used to send boxes of grapes. Those white scuppernong grapes and you could smell them all up and down the hall. They were so good.
Another thing when I was over there. I used to sit in the bathtub to study for exams because she would go around during examination time and you could see about that far from the floor you know, and she would peek in there. If you were standing up she could see you, but I would get in the tub and sit in the tub and she couldn't see me in the tub.
Bratton: Each bathtub was in a little separate room?
Brown: Right. I'd sit right back down there and study. I've studied a many a night sitting in the bathtub.
Bratton: Do you feel like, from going there, that while they were strict, that you had a chance to develop your sense of independence or to mature while you were in school? Or were there so many rules that they treated you like a child?
Brown: No, they never treated us like a child. We were not treated like children.
Bratton: You had rules, like you couldn't go in the halls without hose and you were expected
Brown: Right. If she caught you doing something that you weren't suppose to be doing you were restricted for two weeks or sometimes a month. You couldn't go uptown unless you stole off and went anyway. I never did that because I was scared of her.
Bratton: There probably wasn't too much uptown.
Brown: We had to go to the drugstore to look at the boys.
Bratton: Which was your favorite teacher?
Brown: I think I would say that Miss Graham was my favorite teacher. She taught math.
Bratton: Was she a quiet, shy person?
Brown: Yes, she was. She was quiet and shy. She was a maiden lady, she never married. The funny thing about it was that when I went over there I started taking math. I couldn't understand that geometry to save my life. I wanted to stop that geometry. I didn't have any idea that I was going to school to graduate. So I went to Dr. Wright and I said, "Dr. Wright, I want to stop this geometry." He said, "Miss Cuthrell, you're passing it." I said, "I know that I'm passing it, but I can't spend all my time on that geometry. I've memorized every theorem from the first of the book to where we are every time we have a test, and I am just miserable and I don't want to take it. Besides, I'm not coming until I graduate." He said, "Miss Cuthrell, you don't know what you are going to do. You're too young."
Well, I kept on coming and I decided I would come until I graduated. Well, then I knew that if I graduated I had to take it. So then I was in Miss Graham's class and she was good to me. I led the class. I got an 'A' on every test I took and every theorem and everything she put on the board I was the first one to work it. So I got along fine with Miss Graham and I loved her. A lot of the children were scared to death of her. A lot were scared to death of her.
I'll tell you one I was scared of, Miss Sallie Joyner Davis.
Bratton: Tell me about Miss Davis. I've read about her.
Brown: Oh, she was tall, dignified, had gray hair and if she would ask you a question and you didn't know it, she would say, "Well, your mind must be wool gathering today." Oh I was scared to death of her. But I'll tell you one that everybody loved, Mr. C.W. Wilson.
Bratton: He taught education, didn't he?
Brown: Yes, he did. But anyway, he fixed us one day. It was examination time and we went in there in his room and he said, "Well, I've heard that all of you new students think that my class is a "crip" class and I'm going to show you today." And he went to that board. Oh, you just wouldn't believe what he put on it. And we wrote just as hard as we could from nine o'clock until twelve to get through.
Bratton: Was that an exam?
Brown: Yes. Well see, he had heard about the students who took his class because they thought it was a "crip" class. He said that he'd fix us. He did, too. I sat down and wrote for three hours just as hard as I could.
Bratton: A lot of faculty lived either on Fifth Street or back on Ninth Street. Did the women teachers live in the dormitories?
Brown: I don't remember. We had Mrs. Kate Beckwith who was our principal over the whole business, but also we had two dormitories. I was in the East Dormitory, the one nearest to uptown [Although she calls it the East dorm, the West dorm is the one closest to town]. The East Dormitory had a woman named Miss Moore and she kind of took Mrs. Beckwith's place over there. She would take her problems to Mrs. Beckwith and she would help her with them.
Bratton: Mrs. Beckwith lived in the other dorm.
Brown: She lived in the one I lived in, the East Dorm.
Bratton: So you had her right close.
Brown: I had her right there where she wanted to be I reckon.
Bratton: She looked after the girls as far as discipline in the dormitory and everything like that, but she didn't teach did she?
Brown: No. It was all she could do to look after that bunch of girls.
Bratton: Did Dr. Wright ever teach?
Bratton: He was just always in charge of the school?
Brown: We had chapel every day and we had to go every day, too. Your seat better not be absent or you would hear from it.
Bratton: You had a special seat you were suppose to sit in?
Brown: Yes. Everybody had a special seat and you had better be in that seat. If you weren't you would hear about it the next day.
Bratton: He talked a lot at chapel, I guess, or different people?
Brown: He would talk to us and he would make announcements about things that he wanted everybody to know and he would have a little devotional. I enjoyed it.
Bratton: Did you have to go to all your meals?
Brown: Yes, you sure did.
Bratton: Did you have to sit at a special table?
Brown: Yes. You were assigned one and you were suppose to be there.
Bratton: So they could tell if you were there. I guess they changed the tables from time to time.
Brown: Yes, they did. They wanted you to meet more girls and not just get one crowd sticking together all the time. We didn't have any paved roads or sidewalks out in front of the college either. We had a boardwalk made out of boards, called it the boardwalk. We were not allowed on Fifth Street unless we were going uptown, but not to go just walk for fun.
Bratton: Ladies didn't do that.
Bratton: They were teaching you to be a southern lady and a very professional school teacher all at once, weren't they?
Brown: Right. Mrs. Beckwith would take those girls, and a lot of them came from out in the country everywhere and they didn't know how to dress. They wouldn't wear things that matched. From out in the raw country and in a month's time you could see a difference in them.
Bratton: Style and class.
Brown: She would show them how to dress. It didn't cost a bit more to dress with everything matching than it did to have on something red and blue together. Mrs. Beckwith knew how to do that. She did it with love too. She didn't fuss or anything like that.
Bratton: She just showed them the difference.
Bratton: She taught table manners and all sorts of social graces and things like that.
Brown: Right. That's exactly right. I loved Mrs. Beckwith, myself.
Bratton: She sounds like a very fine woman.
Brown: She was.
Bratton: It sounds like to me that that was really a remarkable faculty you had, the whole group.
Brown: It was. I loved Miss Lewis. She was an art teacher. She could really teach that stuff.
Bratton: She was a good artist, too wasn't she?
Brown: She loved it too. She loved what she was doing.
Bratton: You all had a lot of plays it seems like to me from reading the Training School Quarterly. It seems that different groups would put on plays and entertainment. They didn't have a drama class. You all sort of provided your own entertainment most of the time I guess.
Brown: Right. We'd give plays and when we'd give those big plays, the town people would come and pay to see them. That auditorium was packed every time we gave a play.
Bratton: Did you all go to church in town?
Brown: Yes. I went to Jarvis right then.
Bratton: They encouraged you to go to church.
Brown: Yes, they sure did. Well, everybody wanted to go. They didn't have anywhere else to go. We couldn't go home weekends like they do now. You'd go to church or stay in your room alone. But they encouraged you to go to church.
Bratton: And Sunday School I guess.
Brown: Yes. When I was going to East Carolina I worked with a teacher who had little beginners and I helped her every Sunday in Sunday School.
Bratton: I saw in the Training School Quarterly some mention of vesper services. Does that mean they had an evening Sunday service on the campus? Kind of like the YWCA?
Brown: We had it every Sunday night, the YWCA.
Bratton: So you didn't go off at night to the churches?
Brown: No. We had it in a room upstairs. We stayed on campus.
When I was over there the buildings over there were East Dormitory, in the middle was the Administrative Building where our classes were and then on the other side of that was the other dormitory. That was three buildings. Then there was the dining room which made four and then the infirmary where you went if you got sick. That's all that was over there. And then the laundry.
Bratton: The laundry was sort of near the dining room.
Bratton: It was between the infirmary and the dining room.
Brown: Yes, right in there.
Bratton: And that was the campus.
Bratton: They built the Model School while you were there.
Brown: That's where I taught.
Bratton: You taught there?
Brown: Yes. I enjoyed my Model School teacher and I wasn't afraid of my critic teacher. A lot of the girls were scared to death of them.
Bratton: Who did you have?
Brown: I had Miss MacFayden. You know you had to teach singing. I used to could sing, but I can't now.
Bratton: Everybody had to teach singing?
Brown: Well, I did. Yes, they did. So my roommate couldn't sing very well and she had to teach singing. She sang that song all day until time to go over there to teach it. And she said when she went over there and it came time to teach that song, she was afraid she was going to forget the tune. And she said, "Children, stand up." They stood up and she started teaching them that song and she came back to the room and she said, "Well, I passed it." She had passed singing. She didn't know if she was going to pass it because she really couldn't sing. But she did.
Bratton: I was thinking that would be a problem. I have trouble carrying a tune, and if I had to teach it, it would be kind of hard.
Brown: We always had to teach it. My critic teacher was real good to me. Finally she told me that she didn't want me to make another class plan because I knew how to make them. She told me I could work on the sand table. She wanted a Christmas scene fixed on a sand table to work with the children.
Bratton: I think that you all knew your faculty very much and they were involved in all your activities.
Brown: They used to have one over there that I was scared to death of, Mr. Herbert Austin.
Bratton: Oh! We have not talked about Mr. Herbert Austin. I've never heard anybody talk about him. What about him?
Brown: Well, I was scared of him. He taught science.
Bratton: Was he stern?
Brown: Yes. Everybody used to have to have a little garden, just a little scrap place, and we had to tend it ourselves. We planned what we wanted to put in it. I tell you one thing, you didn't let a sprig of grass grow in it. If you did, he would get you.
Bratton: Why did you have to have a garden?
Brown: Well, it was in some way connected with that science business. I don't know why we had to have it, but we had to have it. He told us to.
Bratton: Was it a part of your school work?
Bratton: Who ate what you grew? Did you harvest what you grew and take it home?
Brown: They cooked it in the dining room.
Bratton: But it was to teach you how to take care of a garden? I guess as a schoolteacher, they taught things like that in school, didn't they?
Bratton: So it was sort of like for teaching. Did you have mostly vegetables or did you have flowers?
Brown: You could plant what you wanted to.
Bratton: Just as long as it grew?
Brown: As long as you kept the grass out of it.